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The Basics Of Sprains
Sprains are an unfortunate side effect of physical activity. Learning to recognize sprains can help athletes better understand their bodies should they suffer an injury.

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts often must contend with injuries. Proper technique and safety protocols can greatly reduce a person’s risk for injury while competing or exercising, but no one can completely eliminate their risk of being injured while engaging in physical activity.

Many an athlete has experienced a sprain at one point or another. In fact, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons notes that sprains are among the most common soft-tissue injuries. Because of that, it can benefit athletes to learn about sprains so they’re better prepared to confront one should they get hurt while competing or training.

What is a sprain?

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, a sprain is an injury to a ligament, the tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint. When athletes suffer a sprain, one or more of their ligaments are stretched or torn.

What’s the difference between a sprain and a strain?

It’s easy to mistake sprains with strains, or assume both injuries are the same. But unlike sprains, which affect the ligaments, strains are injuries to muscles or tendons. Tendons are the fibrous cords of tissue that connect muscle to bone. When a person has a muscle strain, a muscle or tendon is stretched or torn.

Which areas of the body are vulnerable to sprains?

The AAOS notes that the ankles, knees and wrists are most vulnerable to sprains. Many basketball players have experienced sprained ankles, which occur when the foot turns inward, placing extreme tension on the ligaments of the outer ankle. Sudden twists can result in a sprained knee, while sprained wrists are often the result of falling onto an outstretched hand.

Are there different types of sprains?

Not all sprains are the same, and the AAOS notes some may be mild while others more severe. The three categories of sprain are:

Grade 1: Considered a mild sprain, a grade 1 sprain is marked by slight stretching and some damage to the fibers of the ligament.

Grade 2: A grade 2 sprain causes partial tearing of the ligament and is marked by abnormal looseness in the joint when it moves in certain ways.

Grade 3: Significant instability can result from a grade 3 sprain, which is characterized by a complete tear of the ligament.

No matter which type of sprain a person suffers, he or she is likely to experience pain, bruising, swelling, and inflammation. The intensity of these symptoms is linked to the grade of the sprain.